Living Aboard - SailNet Community
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Living Aboard

Sunsets on the water are just one of the benefits of living aboard. Image courtesy Sue & Larry.

Ever thought about ditching the house or apartment and living on a boat full time? For many people, this has been the best move they ever made. If you find that you're simply happier on the water spending time in your boat, why not arrange your life so that you don't have to pack up and go home come Sunday night.

Larry and I chose to liveaboard for a year at a dock in Charleston, SC. We can state unequivocally that we enjoyed each and every day. In our particular case, we lived aboard in anticipation and in preparation of going cruising in one year's time. The cruising lifestyle, however, isn't for everyone and many people who liveaboard do so without any intention of ever going cruising.

During our year of living aboard while working, our evenings and weekends were immersed in fun new activities. We learned to cast nets for shrimp and soon became skilled enough to get a big bucket full each night. As for fishing, we found that we needed to go no further than the edge of our own dock. One morning Larry caught so many trout and redfish that we hosted an impromptu fish-fry for the whole marina later that evening. Lingering debates ensued about which was better, the trout or the redfish. Exploring the many waterways of Charleston, sometimes just in our dinghy and other times in our sailboat / new portable home was no less than fascinating. We soon found ourselves on a first name basis with a multitude of wildlife that shared our new floating habitat. Before moving aboard, we bought a small television thinking that we would need it for entertainment. After only two weeks it was tossed off the boat as we found watching TV paled in comparison to the daily entertainment all around us.

There are a wealth of people who embrace the living aboard lifestyle. Image Sue & Larry.

The move onto the boat immersed us in a really interesting group of people that comprised our new liveaboard neighborhood. Our dockmates ranged from a practicing doctor, several navy officers including one nurse, a salesman for photo copiers, an Around Alone race skipper, several families with school children and a few retired couples. Some of our new dockmates were there after years of cruising, having fulfilled their wanderlust, but finding themselves unable to give up the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Others admitted, though, that they had no desire to cruise or travel what-so-ever. The lifestyle of just living on their boat was all that they needed. They found living aboard their sailboat full-time to be more rewarding than the confines a house filled with too much stuff.

As for the sizes of the boats that people were living aboard, well, they ranged from 24 to 49 feet in length. It was quickly apparent to us that our dockmate's happiness was not determined by the size of their individual boat.

Your dockside neighbors include some transients like this one. Image Sue & Larry.

For Larry and me, that year at the marina allowed us to adjust to the parameters of our new living space. Learning what you need and what you don't and how to store it can be a fine art in the world of living on a boat. We soon felt an unexpected sense of freedom as a result of having just downsized from a large home. While commissioning our boat for cruising we discovered abundant opportunities to meet and learn from other cruisers who were passing through the area and we found wonderful support from our new friends on our dock.

A typical marina liveaboard lifestyle includes such activities as Friday night barbeques on the dock, weekend breakfast get-togethers at local diners, and shared trips to the hardware or marine stores for more maintenance supplies. It's almost impossible to be working on any boat chore and not have a half dozen people stop by to offer advice and often assistance. With similar concerns, interests and routines, the people you interact with in marinas and on the docks bond in a special way. Even the usual boring chore of doing your laundry can become a fun social afternoon when joined by a couple of your dockmates performing the same task.

Most, but not all full time liveaboards choose a climate that does not freeze in the winter. One friend of ours lived in Chicago year round on his sailboat, and claimed that by tenting his boat with plastic in the middle of winter, he attained such a green house effect that he could actually sit around in a t-shirt and shorts at times and do boat chores. We think personally that Chicago is a little too far north for the best liveaboard experience, but who are we to judge?

We've met plenty of sailors who combine the best of both worlds by living aboard in the north during the summer and moving their boat to another marina somewhere south for the winter months. Many return to the same places year after year along with a number of their friends, resulting in a sometimes hectic social scene and the cementing of some pretty deep friendships.

A folding bike is a favored method of transportation around larger marinas. Image Sue & Larry.

The liveaboard lifestyle can be a win-win situation which allows you to combine dramatically lower living expenses with a love of the water. One couple we know with a fourteen year old son and a dog live on their 35 foot sailboat at dock in the Florida Keys. They both have jobs in the community and their son goes to the local school and even plays on the school golf team, which is very convenient for him as his boat is tied up 40 yards from the 10th tee. Another sailing friend who lives aboard while working is a radiologist. He's moved about the country several times since we first met him, securing full time employment at various hospitals while living aboard his 38 foot sailboat.

Some liveaboards find themselves permanently attached to the dock and never move. There's too much gear with none of it properly stowed to ever think of going sailing without a full day's preparation. Others keep everything neatly stored and are able to cast off at a moments notice to take advantage of an afternoon breeze. The choice is yours.

In the right marina, the liveaboard lifestyle provides constant stimulation to the mind and a re-kindlement of the human spirit. A nightly stroll down the dock invokes conversation with all that you meet and the beauty of nature around you is enjoyed at a whole new level. But the best thing of all is that on Sunday night you no longer have to empty the ice box and close all the hatches and head down the road. You're already home and enjoying another beautiful evening in your cockpit.  

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